What will the LSE’s riots research amount to?

MaryLou Costa is a key member of the Marketing Week features team and her blog brings her unique Australian perspective to brands. She also oversees the Market Research Focus weekly bulletin.

The scale of the LSE and Guardian’s riots study is impressive, but can brands turn the insights into action?

Analysing 2.5 million riot-related Tweets, along with potential surveys and interviews of up to 1,100 convicted rioters, will be no easy task. But the London School of Economics and The Guardian newspaper will use this information as part of their massive research project to shed some light on just how the reaction to one shooting in London spiralled out of control so quickly and so devastatingly.

LSE’s Professor Tim Newburn has said there is an “urgent need for some rigorous social research to look at the causes and consequences of the recent riots”. Julia Unwin of the social responsibility charity the Joseph Rowntree Foundation said solid evidence is necessary to drive good Government policy, and none currently exists.

Solid evidence will also aid brands looking to develop relevant initiatives, particularly as some commentators have even gone as far as to say that brands are to blame for making people want things they can’t afford, and driving them to steal.

As our columnist, Mark Ritson, pointed out several weeks ago: “What kind of brand behaviour drives a man like Steven Keith from Manchester to allegedly break into his local newsagent and steal sweets worth £1? He certainly wasn’t making a brand-related statement nor a gesture of protest.”

Without spending millions of pounds on research projects we can already make a direct link between the riots and rising unemployment and a lack of purpose across the recession generation.

Brands such as Asda and Sainsbury’s have already responded to this by signing up to the Government-backed Business in the Community initiative. According to this story, they are each sending 20 staff members to riot-affected areas to help tackle issues such as unemployment.


What I hope the riot study will bring to light is whether brand initiatives such as this are merely a Band-Aid solution that only serve to fill a CSR agenda or will they actually make a difference? If the survey is useful in uncovering the root of the riots, perhaps brand marketers can use the insight to develop initiatives that meet a specific need and not just a charity and PR quota.

Additionally, I hope that the results of the riots study don’t end up just as fodder for The Guardian’s pages, but that its authors take responsibility for the implications of their work and see personally that their report lands on David Cameron’s desk.

It will sure make for more interesting reading than the Government-commissioned happiness study, whose results have yet to be revealed but which I suspect may now be slightly redundant to those in the marketing community who had been patiently awaiting the results of that study and looking to build strategies around them.

The state of the nation unfolded in front of us during the riots. If brands can use the riot study insights to help rebuild a “broken Britain” then insight and thoroughly conducted research will have shown its worth.

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